Participation in the international project POPART (Preservation of Plastic Artefacts in Museum Collections) has been one of the main activities of the GCI's Preservation of Plastics research project over the last three and a half years. In December 2011 the GCI hosted the penultimate meeting of project partners, with twenty-seven conservation scientists, conservators, and researchers attending. At the Los Angeles meeting, each partner presented its progress and results to date, and plans were finalized for the POPART conference—which was held in Paris from March 7 to 9, 2012—and for a publication outlining the research undertaken in the project, which was distributed at the conference (the publication is now available through the POPART website). The meeting also gave project members the opportunity to see and discuss the GCI's work in the Getty's Pacific Standard Time initiative, which includes a study of many artists using synthetic resins in the creation of their work.
The POPART project has involved thirteen partner institutions and researched four important areas in the conservation of plastics in cultural heritage: improving methods of polymer identification, undertaking collection surveys, investigating degradation in a few selected plastics known for their poor stability, and evaluating conservation treatments. The GCI has had two main roles in the project: first, to establish appropriate protocols for the identification and characterization of plastics, which included a complex interlaboratory round-robin to enable proper comparison of results and to determine reproducibility among differing instruments and laboratories; and second, to investigate further the degradation mechanisms of cellulose acetate, focusing on the migration of plasticizer through a film and the effect this has on environmental stability and mechanical performance.
At the March conference in Paris, the GCI presented its work on improving methods for the analysis of plastics—both in the laboratory and via the use of handheld portable instruments—and its research on the aging behavior of cellulose acetate. The GCI also offered a practical workshop in the use of handheld, portable ATR-FTIR (attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy) as a tool for identifying plastics. In total, twenty-three talks and six workshops were given. The diversity of topics and approaches covered in the talks, from analyses to understanding of deterioration and research into novel conservation treatments, reflected the impressive amount of knowledge accumulated by the project partners in three years. Over two hundred delegates attended the conference, testimony to the growing interest in plastics preservation by the conservation community.
More information on the GCI's Preservation of Plastics project and its research into modern and contemporary art can be found at www.getty.edu/conservation.